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Some rural Idaho towns struggling to retain, recruit EMTs

Since many rural EMTs are volunteers, they balance serving their community with a full-time job.

BOISE, Idaho — Some rural Idaho towns do not have enough EMTs ready to serve their communities. 

It is a persisting problem — one Horseshoe Bend and East Boise County Ambulance District are trying to fix. Right now, East Boise County has about 50 volunteers, operations director Melissa Potts said. 

While that number seems large, she said their core team is made up of about 10 of those people. 

"There's definitely increased call times," Potts said. "We have four stations. Usually, only one or two of them are staffed at a time. If we had all four stations, then obviously our response time to a call in Lowman would be minutes instead of an hour." 

Recruiting volunteers can be difficult. East Boise County volunteers do not get paid and often balance serving their community with a full-time job. Despite those hardships, some volunteers, like Trinia Richardson, are still extremely committed. 

Richardson serves both East Boise County and Garden Valley Fire and EMS.

"My father was involved with this and my mom," Richardson said. "So, from a very young age, I was around it and just knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of when I was older."

Retaining reliable volunteers like Richardson can also be a challenge, Potts said. East Boise County puts on an EMT class every year. While there is a good turnout, commitment dwindles after a year or two. 

Potts said they also try to recruit from local fire departments, but since many of those departments are facing similar issues, it is not often successful.

These are not issues unique to East Boise County; Horseshoe Bend is trying to increase its EMT numbers as well. Ryan Stirm is currently a driver and working on getting licensed again. 

"It's really hard because it's not a job, so it doesn't pay a wage," Stirm said. "We have to volunteer our time, and we are not always able to respond all the time, every time."

Stirm said they have four EMTS right now, five once he is fully qualified. The team responds to about 140 to 150 runs every year. Since they are short-staffed, it sometimes takes longer to respond. 

The city did partner with another agency in the Treasure Valley to fill in when needed, but at the end of the day, he said more people simply need to volunteer. 

"We're just trying really hard to come up with a system or a way to get individuals to go ahead and come out and volunteer their time and get EMT certified or even just drive," Stirm said. 

Like Horseshoe Bend, Potts said they hope to provide stipends to their volunteers sometime soon. But because EMS is not considered an essential service in Idaho, there is limited state funding available. 

Potts said raising taxes is really the only option, which would go through the voting process. East Boise County services are already mostly paid for by tax dollars and billing. 

Locals and vacationers should be aware of the staffing shortages, Richardson said. 

"Letting them know when they do come up here that our services, it can be an hour and a half, two hours, you know, plus, depending on the location of an incident," Richardson said. "When people are aware, and they spread the word, you may just find those people that have the urge to get involved as well."

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